Gifted. Such an innocent sounding word. But is it really?
Who can be said to be truly gifted? Put a hundred people in a room and ask them to write down the name of one gifted individual, and you might see the same few names coming up over and over. Even if you asked each person for a list of ten gifted individuals, the list would grow, but it’s a safe bet that a few names would come up regularly. But is it actually an advantage to be labelled ‘gifted’? Especially if that label is applied when still very young?
When students are identified as ‘gifted and talented’, the recognition of innate ability thus conferred may well be a stimulus for some. But then, how often is such talent accurately identified? Meanwhile, in education, we have all known individuals whose naturally ability goes unmatched by any apparent desire to achieve. There is little more frustrating for a teacher than to recognise raw talent that is undervalued by the unhappy child upon whom it has been bestowed.
While inclusion in a ‘gifted and talented’ programme may motivate at least some of those involved, what are it’s effects on others whose ability is not similarly recognised? The subtle inference is that, by comparison at least, those who are in effect excluded are therefore of lesser ability, with the danger that they may therefore expect less of themselves.
Working in education for well over half my lifetime, I have been fascinated to see who achieves the most. Time and again, when I have witnessed real accomplishment, I have noted that rarely do the most successful individuals come from the group of most obviously talented students. Achievers, it seems, come in all shapes and sizes, often unpredictable at the outset. In my experience, better by far to expect the best of everyone, and to let that expectation in turn work to set goals allowing each individual to grow, to test their limits, and to achieve great things in their life. After all, who are we as teachers to limit our charges by teaching them to expect anything less than the best from themselves?
In summing up a true achiever, I think the one word that would apply most often would not be ‘Gifted’, but ‘grafted…’